Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Organizations are rapidly deploying Windows server infrastructure with public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. With traditional on-premises infrastructure now hosted in the cloud, DirectAccess is also being deployed there more commonly.

Supportability

Interestingly, Microsoft has expressly stated that DirectAccess is not formally supported on their own public cloud platform, Azure. However, there is no formal statement of non-support for DirectAccess hosted on other non-Microsoft public cloud platforms. With supportability for DirectAccess on AWS unclear, many companies are taking the approach that if it isn’t unsupported, then it must be supported. I’d suggest proceeding with caution, as Microsoft could issue formal guidance to the contrary in the future.

DirectAccess on AWS

Deploying DirectAccess on AWS is similar to deploying on premises, with a few notable exceptions, outlined below.

IP Addressing

It is recommended that an IP address be exclusively assigned to the DirectAccess server in AWS, as shown here.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Prerequisites Check

When first configuring DirectAccess, the administrator will encounter the following warning message.

“The server does not comply with some DirectAccess prerequisites. Resolve all issues before proceed with DirectAccess deployment.”

The warning message itself states that “One or more network adapters should be configured with a static IP address. Obtain a static address and assign it to the adapter.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

IP addressing for virtual machines are managed entirely by AWS. This means the DirectAccess server will have a DHCP-assigned address, even when an IP address is specified in AWS. Assigning static IP addresses in the guest virtual machine itself is also not supported. However, this warning message can safely be ignored.

No Support for Load Balancing

It is not possible to create load-balanced clusters of DirectAccess servers for redundancy or scalability on AWS. This is because enabling load balancing for DirectAccess requires the IP address of the DirectAccess server be changed in the operating system, which is not supported on AWS. To eliminate single points of failure in the DirectAccess architecture or to add additional capacity, multisite must be enabled. Each additional DirectAccess server must be provisioned as an individual entry point.

Network Topology

DirectAccess servers on AWS can be provisioned with one or two network interfaces. Using two network interfaces is recommended, with the external network interface of the DirectAccess server residing in a dedicated perimeter/DMZ network. The external network interface must use either the Public or Private Windows firewall profile. DirectAccess will not work if the external interface uses the Domain profile. For the Public and Private profile to be enabled, domain controllers must not be reachable from the perimeter/DMZ network. Ensure the perimeter/DMZ network cannot access the internal network by restricting network access in EC2 using a Security Group, or on the VPC using a Network Access Control List (ACL) or custom route table settings.

External Connectivity

A public IPv4 address must be associated with the DirectAccess server in AWS. There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest way is to assign a public IPv4 address to the virtual machine (VM). However, a public IP address can only be assigned to the VM when it is deployed initially and cannot be added later. Alternatively, an Elastic IP can be provisioned and assigned to the DirectAccess server at any time.

An ACL must also be configured for the public IP that restricts access from the Internet to only inbound TCP port 443. To provide additional protection, consider deploying an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) appliance like the Citrix NetScaler or F5 BIG-IP to enforce client certificate authentication for DirectAccess clients.

Network Location Server (NLS)

If an organization is hosting all of its Windows infrastructure in AWS and all clients will be remote, Network Location Server (NLS) availability becomes much less critical than with traditional on-premises deployments. For cloud-only deployments, hosting the NLS on the DirectAccess server is a viable option. It eliminates the need for dedicated NLS, reducing costs and administrative overhead. If multisite is configured, ensure that the NLS is not using a self-signed certificate, as this is unsupported.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

However, for hybrid cloud deployments where on-premises DirectAccess clients share the same internal network with cloud-hosted DirectAccess servers, it is recommended that the NLS be deployed on dedicated, highly available servers following the guidance outlined here and here.

Client Provisioning

All supported DirectAccess clients will work with DirectAccess on AWS. If the domain infrastructure is hosted exclusively in AWS, provisioning clients can be performed using Offline Domain Join (ODJ). Provisioning DirectAccess clients using ODJ is only supported in Windows 8.x/10. Windows 7 clients cannot be provisioned using ODJ and must be joined to the domain using another form of remote network connectivity such as VPN.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess No Longer Supported in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Server Software Support for Azure Virtual Machines

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Guidance

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Offline Domain Join (ODJ)

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with F5 BIG-IP

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to External Load Balancer


Introduction

Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to External Load BalancerMultiple DirectAccess servers can be deployed in a load-balanced cluster to eliminate single crucial points of failure and to provide scalability for the remote access solution. Load balancing can be enabled using the integrated Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) or an external physical or virtual load balancer.

NLB Drawbacks and Limitations

NLB is often deployed because it is simple and inexpensive. However, NLB suffers from some serious drawbacks that limit its effectiveness in all but the smallest deployments. For example, NLB uses network broadcasts to communicate cluster heartbeat information. Each node in the cluster sends out a heartbeat message every second, which generates a lot of additional network traffic on the link and reduces performance as more nodes are added. Scalability is limited with NLB too, as only 8 nodes are supported, although the practical limit is 4 nodes. Further, NLB supports only round-robin connection distribution.

External Load Balancer

A better alternative is to implement a dedicated physical or virtual load balancing appliance. A purpose-built load balancer provides additional security, greater scalability (up to 32 nodes per cluster), improved performance, and fine-grained traffic control.

Migrate from NLB to ELB

It is possible to migrate to an external load balancer (ELB) after NLB has already been configured. To do this, follow the guidance provided in my latest blog post on the KEMP Technologies blog entitled “Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers”.

Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to External Load Balancer

Additional Resources

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

Load Balancing DirectAccess with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks Webinar with KEMP Technologies

DirectAccess Single NIC Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Configuring the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer for DirectAccess NLS

Enable DirectAccess Load Balancing Video

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks Webinar

KEMP Technologies LoadMaster Load BalancerEnabling load balancing for DirectAccess deployments is crucial for eliminating single points of failure and ensuring the highest levels of availability for the remote access solution. In addition, enabling load balancing allows DirectAccess administrators to quickly and efficiently add capacity in the event more processing power is required.

DirectAccess includes support for load balancing using integrated Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) and external load balancers (physical or virtual). External load balancers are the recommended choice as they provide superior throughput, more granular traffic distribution, and greater visibility. External load balancers also more scalable, with support for much larger DirectAccess server clusters, up to 32 nodes. NLB is formally limited to 8 nodes, but because it operates at layer 2 in the OSI model and relies on broadcast heartbeat messages, it is effectively limited to 4 nodes.

The KEMP Technologies LoadMaster load balancer is an excellent choice for load balancing the DirectAccess workload. To learn more about configuring the LoadMaster with DirectAccess, join me for a free live webinar on Tuesday, August 16 at 10:00AM PDT where I’ll discuss DirectAccess load balancing in detail. I will also be sharing valuable tips, tricks, and best practices for load balancing DirectAccess.

DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks Webinar

Don’t miss out. Register today!

Additional Resources

DirectAccess Load Balancing Overview

Load Balancing DirectAccess with the KEMP Loadmaster Load Balancer

Maximize your investment in Windows 10 with DirectAccess and the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

KEMP LoadMaster DirectAccess Deployment Guide

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Education

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in EducationIntroduction

DirectAccess provides seamless and transparent, always on remote network connectivity for managed Windows clients. It is commonly installed in large enterprises to provide better management for field-based assets, and to streamline the remote access experience for end users. Today, DirectAccess is a mature technology that is widely deployed across many verticals, but education is one that is often overlooked.

Benefits of DirectAccess

For commercial enterprises, the benefits of DirectAccess are many. Windows 10 DirectAccess clients have ubiquitous access to on-premises applications and data without requiring user interaction. This streamlined user access improves productivity and reduces helpdesk costs. DirectAccess is always on, allowing client machines to stay in contact with domain controllers and systems management servers, ensuring they are always managed.

DirectAccess in Education

Many of the same benefits DirectAccess provides for the enterprise are also important in the education sector. Often administrators for schools and colleges have many Windows-based machines that they must both manage and provide secure remote access for. In addition, they struggle with the same issues that enterprises do, such as maintaining configuration and security posture for devices that are predominantly remote.

Windows 10 and Education

Windows 10 November Update Available TodayThe Windows 10 Education SKU is a supported client operating system for DirectAccess, enabling educational institutions using this license to implement a remote access solution with DirectAccess using Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Server 2016. Implementing a DirectAccess remote access solution can result in significant cost savings, as DirectAccess requires no investments in proprietary hardware and has no associated per-user licensing.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Microsoft is making a concerted effort to address the education sector with new and compelling features to be included in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, released earlier this week. For example, they have introduced apps that simplify the setup of school PCs. App discovery and purchasing are easier, and stylus support is improved. Native integration with Office 365 is another important factor. There are also a number of significant new security features that will make migrating to Windows 10 a worthy investment.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Education

Summary

If you are an administrator working for any educational institution and are struggling with maintaining and supporting your field-based Windows devices, consider a DirectAccess remote access solution today. With DirectAccess implemented, users will be more productive and remote machines better managed. DirectAccess can also be deployed using existing infrastructure, and it supports flexible network deployment along with many scalability features that will ensure the highest levels of availability.

Additional Resources

Video: DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Action
3 Important Things about Windows 10 and DirectAccess
DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together
DirectAccess Consulting Services
Book: Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

3 Important Things You Need to Know about Windows 10 and DirectAccess

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better TogetherDirectAccess has been with us for quite some time know, having been originally introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2, later enhanced with Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) 2010, and finally integrated in to the base operating system in Windows Server 2012 R2. Client support for DirectAccess begins with Windows 7 (Enterprise or Ultimate), and also includes Windows 8.x (Enterprise) and Windows 10 (Enterprise or Education).

Although Windows 7 clients are supported for DirectAccess, Windows 10 is highly preferred. Here are three important things you need to know about using Windows 10 with DirectAccess.

  1. Windows 10 Provides Improved Performance and Scalability – Windows 10 includes support for null encryption when using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol. This eliminates the needless double-encryption performed by Windows 7 clients, and dramatically reduces the protocol overhead for clients connecting behind port-restricted firewalls. DirectAccess servers can support many more concurrent IP-HTTPS sessions with Windows 10, and it has the added benefit of making the more secure perimeter/DMZ deployment behind an edge security device performing NAT much more attractive.
  2. Windows 10 Supports Geographic Redundancy – Windows 10 includes full support for DirectAccess multisite deployments. Where Windows 7 clients had to be assigned to a single entry point, Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points in the organization. They are able to automatically select the nearest entry point on startup, and transparently failover to another site if the current site becomes unavailable.
  3. Windows 10 Features an Enhanced Management Experience – From a troubleshooting and support perspective, Windows 10 makes things much easier. The DirectAccess connectivity assistant, an optional component for Windows 7, is now fully integrated with the Windows 10 UI. PowerShell is greatly improved and now includes many native DirectAccess configuration and troubleshooting commands.

As you can see, there are a number of significant advantages for using Windows 10 with DirectAccess. Windows 10 now supports all of the enterprise features of DirectAccess, including geographic redundancy and performance and scalability improvements. Windows 10 is also easier to troubleshoot and manage. If you’re still supporting Windows 7, DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 can certainly support them. However, without a doubt the best experience, both from an administrator’s and the end user’s perspective, is with Windows 10. Just one more reason to begin planning your migration to Windows 10 with DirectAccess today!

Need assistance with implementing  DirectAccess with Windows 10? I can help! More details here.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

With the release of Windows 10, many organizations who chose to skip Windows 8 are now beginning to deploy this new client operating systemn. To maximize investment in Windows 10, DirectAccess can be leveraged to provide employees with seamless and transparent, always on, secure remote corporate network connectivity. DirectAccess has been around for many years, and today the most popular DirectAccess client is Windows 7. However, Windows 10 provides better support for DirectAccess features that enhance performance and availability, while at the same making it easier to implement and support. Windows 10 opens up many new and compelling deployment scenarios for small businesses to large scale enterprises.

Full Support for Geographic Redundancy

Without a doubt the most important DirectAccess feature Windows 10 supports is automatic entry point selection and transparent failover for multisite deployments. DirectAccess multisite deployment provides essential geographic redundancy for organizations with multiple physical locations. Windows 7 has only minimal support for multisite deployment, with clients required to be assigned to a single entry point. Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points and will intelligently select the closest entry point when establishing a DirectAccess connection. If the entry point becomes unavailable during the connection, Windows 10 clients will transparently connect to another entry point automatically.

Better Scalability and Performance

Windows 10, like Windows 8 before it, includes support for IP-HTTPS null encryption. This feature greatly improves scalability on the DirectAccess server by eliminating the needless double encryption that Windows 7 clients perform. This reduces resource consumption on the server and enables the server to support many more DirectAccess client connections.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Enhanced Supportability

Many will also appreciate Windows 10’s built-in DirectAccess connectivity status indicator. No longer will administrators have to deploy, manage, and maintain additional software to provide this essential functionality.

To access DirectAccess information in Windows 10, press Window Key + I, click Network & Internet, and then click the DirectAccess tab. Here you will find vital details about DirectAccess configuration and status such as connection state, currently connected entry point, and a site selection drop down box (if manual site selection is enabled by an administrator). In addition you can generate and collect log information for troubleshooting purposes.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Native PowerShell Support

Anyone tasked with troubleshooting DirectAccess configuration and connectivity issues will appreciate the native PowerShell integration with DirectAccess in Windows 10. With just a few commands a wealth of information about DirectAccess configuration and connectivity status can be obtained.

Need to quickly determine if a Windows 10 client has been provisioned for DirectAccess successfully?

Get-DAClientExperienceConfiguration

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Has the Windows 10 client connected successfully? If not, why?

Get-DAConnectionStatus

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Need to identify the Network Location Server (NLS) the client is configured to use?

Get-NCSIPolicyConfiguration

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Looking for DirectAccess multisite entry point details and connection status?

Get-DAEntryPointTableItem

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

PKI Optional (But Recommended)

Finally, when Windows 10 (and Windows 8.x) clients are supported exclusively a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is optional. Here instead the Kerberos Proxy is leveraged to perform DirectAccess client authentication, which reduces infrastructure requirements by eliminating the need for a PKI. However, this configuration offers only limited support for DirectAccess features. For example, a PKI is still required if any Windows 7 clients are deployed. Also, PKI is required to support features such as one-time password (OTP) authentication, Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) integration, load balancing (integrated or external), force tunneling, and multisite configuration.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

For optimum security and maximum deployment flexibility it is recommended that PKI be used to manage certificates for all DirectAccess deployments including those supporting only Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients.

Summary

DirectAccess and Windows 10 are much better together. Windows 10 provides full support for the geographic load balancing features of DirectAccess and at the same time offers improved scalability and performance. Windows 10 also makes supporting and troubleshooting DirectAccess clients much easier. And for smaller deployments, Windows 10 can lower the barrier to entry for organizations considering DirectAccess by eliminating the need for a full PKI deployment.

Additional Resources

Video: DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Action
DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Education
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course
DirectAccess Consulting Services

More Information

Have a question about DirectAccess? Fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for Kemp LoadMaster Load BalancersA few months ago I had the opportunity to work with the folks at KEMP Technologies to document the use of their LoadMaster load balancers for Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess deployments. DirectAccess has several critical single points of failure which can benefit from the use of a load balancer. Typically Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) is used in these scenarios, but NLB suffers from some serious limitations and lacks essential capabilities required to fully address these requirements. The use of an external third-party load balancer can provide better load distribution and more granular traffic control, while at the same time improving availability with intelligent service health checks.

Working with the LoadMaster was a great experience. Installation was quick and simple, and their web-based management console is intuitive and easy to use. The LoadMaster includes essential features that are required for load balancing DirectAccess servers, and advanced capabilities that can be leveraged to enhance geographic redundancy for multisite deployments.

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

KEMP offers the widest platform coverage with their solutions, including dedicated hardware appliances, virtual appliances for multiple hypervisors including Hyper-V, cloud-based including Microsoft Azure, as well as bare metal support for installation on your own hardware. You can download a fully functional free trial here.

You can view and download the Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Deployment Guide for the KEMP LoadMaster load balancing solution here.

Additional Resources

Video: Enable Load Balancing for DirectAccess

Configure KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer for DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS)

DirectAccess Single NIC Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

DirectAccess and the Free KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Webinar Recording: DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks

Webinar Recording: DirectAccess Multisite with Windows 10 and KEMP LoadMaster GEO

Webinar Recording: Maximize Your Investment in Windows 10 with DirectAccess and the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book

 

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